No, ivy doesn't damage trees, says botanist Phil Gates. Ivy, a climber that merely uses trees for support, has co-existed with our native trees for thousands of years. It can smother the crowns of old, moribund trees that don’t cast enough shade to suppress its growth, making them more vulnerable to toppling in gales if their root systems are weakened by fungal decay.

But this ought to be viewed as an integral part of the natural cycle of life and death in woodlands.

Additionally, ivy is one of the most valuable resources available to birds and insects. Research published in 2013 confirmed that the plant is particularly important as a source of nectar for bees in autumn and berries for birds in spring, in addition to being an essential foodplant for caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly. There is a strong case for considering it to be a keystone species – meaning that it plays a pivotal role in woodland ecology.

It’s also worth remembering that ivy is a woody evergreen that soaks up atmospheric carbon dioxide throughout the year, unlike the deciduous trees that support it, which only do so in the spring and summer months.


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Authors

Phil Gates taught biology at Durham University and writes for The Guardian’s Country Diary column.